The Buck Stops Here

Global Shell GamesHit TV series like Breaking Bad demonstrate just how far criminals will go to conceal their piles of dirty money. But of all the countries in the world, these illicit activities are most easily carried out under the guise of shell companies right here in the United States.

A shell company is a business in name only, with no actual employees or products. It exists only on paper and can be set up within a matter of hours. They are the global getaway cars for criminals involved in money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, drug trafficking, and perhaps even terrorism, says Michael Findley, assistant professor of government.

To see just how far they could go to secure an untraceable shell company, Findley and his research team impersonated a range of criminals – from money launderers to terrorist financiers to drug traffickers. They made thousands of email solicitations to nearly 4,000 services in more than 180 countries around the world. Despite the glaring red flags signaling potential security threats, they were able to secure approval to set up untraceable shell companies online for as little as a few hundred dollars.

“On the whole, forming an anonymous shell company is as easy as ever in the United States, despite supposed increased attention following 9/11,” says Findley, who focuses much of his research on terrorism and counterterrorism.  “The results are disconcerting and demonstrate that we are much too far from a world that is safe from crime and terror.”

International laws mandate shell providers to require notarized photo identification from clients. Yet the researchers found almost half of the firms they solicited failed to ask for proper identification—and one fifth did not want any photo ID at all. The grim results are detailed in the authors’ new book, Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime and Terrorism. Findley conducted the investigations with his co-authors Daniel Nielson, of Brigham Young University; Jason Sharman, of Griffith University; and their team of research assistants.

Michael Findley

Michael Findley is a political scientist in the Department of Government and co-director of Innovations for Peace and Development.

Among the top offenders is the United States. The findings show that Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming are some of the easiest places in the world to score an illicit shell operation. In fact, classic tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Jersey are much more compliant with transparency rules than the rich, powerful countries.

While shopping around the United States for anonymous shell companies, the researchers were able to seal the deal in less than three hours after trying about a dozen approaches. However, in so-called tax havens, it took more than double the time and effort.

Enforcement is not especially expensive, given that even tiny tax havens and developing countries are able to apply international standards on corporate transparency, The problem, Findley says, boils down to necessity.

“Tax havens have tightened up the standards much more vigorously than other places, partly because they have to,” Findley says. “They have to protect their incorporation industries and make sure they don’t fall out of favor in the international community. By tightening up their standards, perhaps by necessity, they make it possible to have this good business-operating environment.”

To fix the problem, Findley says shell company providers need to require proper ID from their clients, especially foreigners. But most importantly, regulators need to follow up with providers to make sure they’re up to code. Random audits requiring the information on the actual owners of shell corporations would not cost much and appear to make the difference for the most law-abiding countries. The laws need to be enforced at the international, national and state levels, Findley notes.

Until the United States and other countries in the elite Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) start playing by the rules, corruption will continue to run rampant all over the world.  Organized crime will flourish, drug cartels will run smoothly, and corrupt officials will live the life of luxury on stolen money, Findley says.

For example, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych owned a presidential palace, a private zoo, a vintage car collection and many other luxuries thanks in part to anonymous shell companies, Findley says.

“I would like to see this type of leader go away,” Findley says. “What we have found here is not a silver bullet solution, but it is a very important part of the puzzle. Money drives corruption. If we could understand the money laundering process and take steps to track the real people in control of shell companies, it would be much more difficult for organized criminals and possibly terrorists to carry out their nefarious activities.”

Go to this website for more about the book: www.globalshellgames.com

Michener Center to Host Acclaimed Novelist Zadie Smith on March 27

The UT Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by acclaimed author Zadie Smith on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm in the Blanton Auditorium on UT campus. The reading is free, requires no tickets, and is open to students and the public, but seating is limited to 300.

Zadie Smith, born in London in 1975 to an English father and Jamaican mother, made a stunning literary debut in 2000 with White Teeth, which was praised internationally and won numerous first book awards. Her third novel, On Beauty, won the 2006 Orange Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker, and her latest, NW (for the London postcode area in which she was born and still resides), was named one of the New York Times’ Best Books of 2012. Granta magazine has twice listed her in its “20 Best Young British Novelists.” She divides her time between London and New York, where she on the Creative Writing faculty of NYU.

The Blanton Auditorium is located in the Edgar A. Smith Building in the Blanton Museum complex at MLK and Congress Avenue. Parking is available in the nearby Brazos garage.

The Secret Life of Magnum Photographs: American Studies Professor Offers an Inside Look at Some of the World’s Most Iconic Images

High above a blur of cars on a congested street in Lower Manhattan, a Chinese man sits atop a tiny fire escape sipping a bowl of noodles.

Surrounded by a concrete jungle of asphalt and high-rise buildings, the man is far from isolation. Yet somehow he appears to be very much alone and out of place.

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This powerful portrayal of modern immigrant life —the cramped living space, the alienation, the absence of color and wide-open spaces – exquisitely captures the parallels between inward struggles and the outside world.

This 1996 photograph from Chien-Chi Chang’s China Town project is one of many iconic photographs in the massive Magnum Photos archive that evoke a sense of wonder and mystery about the world around us. While many of these prints are now valuable art commodities, they were originally intended for reproduction in publications around the world, says Steven Hoelscher, professor of American studies and geography at UT Austin. Continue reading

Architecture Professor Receives Subvention Award for Book on Early Colonial Buildings in Oaxaca, Mexico

Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the Office of the Vice President of Research, Subvention Grants Program. The award will support the book named “Mixtec Stonecutting Artistry / El arte de la cantería mixteca” to be published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico Press.

Ibarra, who was involved in the restoration of early colonial buildings in Oaxaca Mexico, had been planning for a number of years to study the three beautiful sixteenth-century churches of la Mixteca in southern Mexico.

Benjamin Sevilla

His curiosity for these buildingsarose from the extraordinary refinement in the construction and the outstanding ribbed vaults forming the ceilings. These churches have been recognized by art historians for their monumentality, the exquisite pieces of art found in the buildings, and because of their important role that they played in the historic events that took place during early colonial times in Mexico. Ibarra’s work looks at the buildings from a different perspective.

“The churches of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca, and San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcoloula are unique pieces of architecture in the Americas, they are the continuation of the Gothic architecture on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.” wrote Professor Enrique Rabasa who is the author of the book’s foreword.

In order to develop his analysis, Ibarra relied in the latest technologies, which allowed him to analyze the buildings in the digital environment. This required first, to establish collaboration agreements with institutions and the government of Mexico, in order to obtain the permissions for the documentation of the buildings. Once the agreements were in place, Ibarra used a 3D laser scanner that created a 3D model in the computer. These 3D models were analyzed obtaining the information of how the vaults were designed and how they were built stone by stone. The study looks at the buildings from the point of view of the methods of construction and the transference of building technology necessary to complete such complex buildings. The methodology implemented by Ibarra is illustrated through sixteenth-century and eighteenth-century depiction methods in combination with digital models creating a number of attractive drawings and 3D prints.

Parallel to this book, Ibarra has curated an exhibition that includes fifteen models created with 3D printing technology and thirty-seven panels profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. The exhibition is currently traveling through different cities in Mexico and the US, and it will visit the city of Austin in late 2014. “My goal is to place these buildings in the global context of the History of Construction,” has said Ibarra in his presentations about his research work. He notes his book “will be obligated reference to those who study sixteenth-century architecture in Mexico and those who admire the achievements of the indigenous people during this period of time.”

Cognitive Psychologist Art Markman Shows Us How to Create New Habits in Smart Change

illustration of bookThe New Year is on the horizon, and just like clockwork many people are dutifully preparing lists of resolutions that will likely be forgotten by mid-January.

Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, shows us a better way to make lifestyle changes in his new book Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, which was released on Jan. 7. Based on decades of cognitive research, the book shows how to harness the brain’s capabilities to adopt better habits – from becoming more productive at the office to curbing mindless midnight snacking.

We caught up with Markman for more details about his how-to approach for transforming bad habits into positive behaviors.

Briefly describe Smart Change.

Markman, Art 2011

Art Markman (Photo by Marsha Miller)

Smart Change starts with the observation that many people want to change their behavior, but few people really know why their brains make them continue to repeat the same behaviors they have had in the past. The more you understand about how the brain motivates you to act, the more effectively you can help yourself to act in new ways. After exploring the motivational mechanisms in the brain, Smart Change presents five sets of tools that you can use to change even the most persistent behaviors.

Why is it so hard to break a bad habit, such as late night snacking in front of the TV?

Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it. So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors. The hardest part about these behaviors is that they are habits, and so they are done mindlessly. You are often unaware of when and why you are performing the behaviors.

One of the hardest parts about changing a behavior like snacking is that your first reaction is going to be to replace the behavior with nothing (that is, not eating). But, your brain cannot learn to do nothing. So, you need to start the process by trying to replace an existing habit with a new one. If you typically snack while watching TV, maybe you should take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle while you watch. That will keep your hands busy.

You provide a free Smart Change journal online, which includes a 14-Day Habit Diary. Could you share some insight into how journaling helps people change their behavior?

Much of what you do on a daily basis is mindless. It is hard to figure out the situations in which you are carrying out the behaviors you want to change until you can become more aware of when and where you are doing them. Spending two weeks just observing your behavior gives you a lot of insight into why you do what you do now. Those insights will be helpful when you start generating a plan to change your behavior.

In this age of instant communication, people often fe

el the pressure of being “always on.” How can this book help us adjust a balance between technology and our daily lives?

If you feel like one of your habits is to carry your work home with you, then you can use Smart Change to find new habits that will create a separation between work and home. In the book, I talk about how I took up the saxophone as an adult. I had to clear time and space in my life to add a new routine. Thirteen years later, though, my life is richer for it (and I even play in a blues band on Sunday nights).

In addition to productivity and time management, how can this book help people with their personal struggles?

Your motivational system does not care whether the behaviors you are changing are ones you do at work or at home. Your brain helps you live your whole life. The principles you use to help you to be more productive at work are the same ones that engage to give you a meaningful life at home. The book draws on examples of behavior change at work and at home.

In your book, one of the five steps is to engage with people. Why is this important?

Human beings are social creatures. We are wired to adopt the goals of the people around us. If you spend time with people who have the habits you want to develop, it will naturally lead you to adopt the same goals. One important thing you can do is to find a mentor—someone who has the aspects of your life that you want. Then, spend time with that person and get to know how that person succeeds. Use their wisdom to help you make changes in your own life.

Once your readers follow the steps and successfully change their behavior, how can they pay it forward to others?

After you have your own success changing your behavior, it is time to be one of those people in the community who has the life that other people want. When you become a mentor for other people who are trying to change their behavior, it also helps you to recognize aspects of your own behavior that you still want to improve. Being a mentor can give you added motivation to continue to move forward in your own life.

What sets this book apart from other behavior modification self-help books?

There are a lot of books out there on habits and behavior change. Some of the books describe how people form habits, but they don’t provide specific tools to help you change. Other books present a model of behavior change that is presented as a one-size-fits-all approach to developing new behaviors.

Smart Change is different, because it roots everything in the science of psychology. The first two chapters help you to understand the aspects of your brain that influence your behavior. Only then do I introduce tools to help you to change your behavior. Each of those tools has an evidence base behind it. In addition, each tool requires some work. It isn’t enough just to read about changing your behavior. You have to be active in your own change. The book comes along with a Smart Change Journal that you can use to take a comprehensive approach to changing behavior.

Finally, the book ends by pointing out that all of the tools that you use to change your own behavior can also be used to influence the behavior of the people around you. Real persuasion does not involve constructing arguments to convince people that a particular course of action is the right one. Instead, it requires the development of a plan that will ultimately change people’s behavior.

Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. His recent book, Smart Thinking, presents a three-part formula to show readers how to develop “smart habits,” how to acquire high quality knowledge, and how to use that knowledge when it’s needed. He is also on the scientific advisory boards for The Dr. Phil Show and The Dr. Oz Show.

Prof. Robin Moore to translate Cuban music author’s essays to English for first time

Robin Moore

Robin Moore

Robin Moore, professor of ethnomusicology in the Butler School of Music, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the UT Office of the Vice President for Research’s Subvention Grants Program in support of an annotated translation of the works of Cuban music author Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969), to be published by Temple University Press.

Moore, who has been the editor of Latin American Music Review since 2005, had been considering taking the project on for about five years. He was encouraged by a colleague who is the editor of a series on Latin American music at Temple Press to pursue the project, which meant contacting the heirs of author Ortiz in Spain, making selections of his writings for inclusion, and vetting the idea with the Temple Press editorial board. The working title is Fernando Ortiz on Music: Selected Writings on Afro-Cuban Expressive Culture.

“Cuban music has wide popularity, and thus Ortiz’s work will interest a general readership of fans and performers,” wrote Moore in his prospectus. “Beyond this, the text will prove useful to students of Cuban studies, Caribbean studies, Latin American studies, African diaspora studies, ethnomusicology, cultural anthropology, and related fields.”

Ortiz has received recognition as the instigator and early advocate of Afro-Cuban studies; he founded the Society of Afrocuban Studies in Havana in 1937, and organized and edited periodicals dedicated to the investigation of Cuban traditional arts. Yet despite his importance, most of Ortiz’s works on music—which in fact constitute the majority of what he published—have never been translated into English.

Moore will translate several of Ortiz’s essays, including shorter instrument essays on various types of percussion, as well as others on songs, dances, ritual processions and ceremonies in which specific forms of music derived from Yoruba, Kongo, and other West African groups is a central component. To preface the book, Moore will write an extended essay outlining the scope of Ortiz’s inquiries as well as the author’s origins of source material, his changing attitude towards Afro-Cuban expressive arts, and his interactions with academic co-collaborators.

Moore notes his book “could serve as a supplemental text for those teaching on the history of ideas in the Caribbean and Latin America, and those interested in debates over race, culture, and society.”

Poets Nye, Fountain and McGriff on Campus Dec. 5

visiting writersThe UT Michener Center for Writers will host an evening with our visiting poets and alums NAOMI SHIHAB NYECARRIE FOUNTAIN, and MICHAEL MCGRIFF on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.  San Antonio native Nye is a force of nature in American poetry who has taught for the Michener Center numerous times over the years.  Fountain and McGriff are distinguished alums who are teaching for UT’s Department of English New Writers Project and the MCW, respectively, this fall.

The Peter O’Donnell building, formerly known as the ACES building, is on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway on UT Campus.  Parking is available in the nearby UT garage at San Jacinto and 24th.

 

Dec. 7: Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair

Love reading? Need a great present for those bibliophiles on your holiday list? Want to meet some talented Texas authors? Come by the Byrne-Reed House (1410 Rio Grande Street) for Humanities Texas’s fifth annual Holiday Book Fair, which will take place on Saturday, December 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Noteworthy authors participating in this year’s festive event include Bill Minutaglio, Steven Harrigan, Nick Kotz, Joe Nick Patoski, Chase Untermeyer, Jesús F. de la Teja, Jerome Loving, Ricardo C. Ainslie, Sarah Cortez, Nan Cuba, Diana Lopez, Hector Ruiz, Don Tate, and Andrea White. Authors will visit with holiday shoppers and sign copies of their latest books, which Humanities Texas will have available for purchase at a discounted price. Or simply come by for good conversation and delicious homemade baked goods and hot coffee. Free parking will be available in the St. Martin’s Lutheran Church lot on the northwest corner of 15th and Rio Grande Streets. All proceeds from the book fair and bake sale will benefit Austin flood victims.

Visit www.humanitiestexas.org, contact us at 512-440-1991, or find us on Facebook or Twitter for more details about this event.

Deadline for Hamilton Book Awards Program Jan. 7, 2014

THE HAMILTON BOOK AWARDS PROGRAM, sponsored by the University Co-operative Society, is accepting all books, including scholarly monographs, creative works (e.g., novels and anthologies of poetry), exhibition catalogs, textbooks, and edited collections published in calendar year 2013 by university faculty and staff. Deadline is Jan. 7, 2014.

Information and application form for this program is available at the Vice President for Research website:

http://www.utexas.edu/research/resources/awards-fellowships-grants. We are unable to accept late submissions due to tight review schedules. Please direct questions to liza@austin.utexas.edu or 471-2877.

Michener Center reading by 2013 residency author Colm Toibin

The University of Texas at Austin Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by our fall 2013 residency author, COLM TOIBIN, on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.

Toibin, a native of Ireland, is the author of two novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Blackwater Lightship and The Master, as well as Brooklyn, 2009 Costa Novel of the Year, The Empty Family, a collection of stories, and The Testament of Mary, adapted to stage on Broadway this past year.  He is as well a prolific essayist and journalist.

The Peter O’Donnell building, formerly known as the ACES building, is on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway on UT Campus.  Parking is available in the nearby UT garage at San Jacinto and 24th.